St Mary's Isle Priory

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St Mary's Isle Priory was a monastic house of Augustinian canons located on the Isle of Trail or St Mary's Isle in Galloway. It is alleged to have originated in an endowment of the island by King Fergus of Galloway in favour of Holyrood Abbey. Whether or not the endowment was made for this purpose, Holyrood Abbey established a daughter house there which is on record by the time of a grant by Lochlann, Lord of Galloway sometime between 1189 and 1193. A "prior of Galloway" by the name of "William" appeared alongside the Abbot of Holywood and his prior in a document preserved by St Andrews Cathedral Priory dated to 1173, and so it is possible that this William is the earliest recorded Prior of St Mary's Isle.

The priory maintained its dependent relationship with Holyrood Abbey. In order to help maintain the canons and prior of the monastery, in 1323 King Robert I of Scotland granted to Holyrood Abbey a tithe of the revenues from royal pleas taken from the area between the rivers Nith and Cree. The declining health of the priory, related more generally to the declining fortunes of monasteries in Scotland in the 15th century, led James IV of Scotland to seek its reincorporation into Holyrood Abbey. This only led to a kinsman of the abbot of Holyrood becoming Prior of St Mary's Isle. In the 16th century control of the priory was secularized and held by a series of commendators. It came into the control of the Lidderdale family, and formally became part of their entirely secular lordship in 1608.

The peninsula of St Mary's Isle on which the priory stood lies in the estuary of the River Dee south of Kirkcudbright. It divides the bays of Manxman's Lake and Goat Well Bay. The tidal islet of Inch lies just offshore in Manxsman's Lake.

Robert Burns is said to have composed the "Selkirk Grace" whilst visiting Lord Daer at St Mary's Isle.[1]


  1. ^ "The King's Arms Inn: The Old Head Inn of Kirkcudbright and its Burns Associations." Retrieved 12 September 2009. Burns seems to have based the grace on pre-existing one rather than having composed it completely anew.


  • Cowan, Ian B. & Easson, David E., Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland With an Appendix on the Houses in the Isle of Man, Second Edition, (London, 1976), pp. 96–7
  • Watt, D.E.R. & Shead, N.F. (eds.), The Heads of Religious Houses in Scotland from the 12th to the 16th Centuries, The Scottish Records Society, New Series, Volume 24, (Edinburgh, 2001), pp. 193–7

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